These times, They Are A’Changing

Essay by Fred Plumer on 18 October 2018 5 Comments

I recently received a couple of emails from Progressing Spirit subscribers who reminded me of a song Bob Dylan wrote in the early sixties. It was the title track song of the album, “These Times, They Are A’Changing”. Most people who have commented on this particular recording believe the title track was designed to support and maybe even influence the social change movement that clearly was happening in the 1960’s. Bob Dylan took a lot of criticism in those days, but fifty years later he was honored with the Noble Prize in literature.  And I would argue, these times are truly “a’changing.”

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Question

I’m puzzled about prayer in the context of Progressive Christianity which has replaced the interventionist God “up-there” or “out-there” with the God-within. The typical (conventional) church service liturgy invariably includes an “Intercessions” segment. What meaning does this (segment) have in the context of “progressive” thinking? Should it be abandoned?

Answer

Dear John,

I can't even begin to imagine how many books have been written about prayer. Undoubtedly, it's a tremendous amount. I suspect that even if someone could read them all, they'd still be left a bit mystified about prayer. That is to say, I do not know the answer to your question. As far as I'm concerned, no one really does. But I do have my own thoughts and opinions about the subject.

I definitely don't see prayer as coins for the “great vending machine in the sky.” Theologically, that kind of belief leaves us with either a God whose will and actions can be influenced or even controlled, or it leaves us with a God who is unconcerned and flippant about responding to prayer. Pragmatically, it's demonstrably untrue and believing that it's true can lead to a lifetime of wounds and anger with God.

Ultimately, it's a question of the providence of God. How does God interact with Creation? Personally, I see God interacting through us – reflections of God. So, even if prayer somehow influenced the will of God, I don't see God reaching down from the sky and mucking about with the world all haphazardly. Instead, I see God impacting the world through relationship with each of us and the actions we take in the world. That's both an internal and external God.

For me, prayer is one of the ways we connect with that internal/external God. It is a chance to grow in that relationship – including speaking about the difficult places in life and in the world. It's an opportunity to commune with God and to be oriented toward God. Intersessions are still important in that perspective, but we must understand that it is not us asking God for a result from the great vending machine, but rather us being reminded that we are how God intercedes.

~ Rev. Mark Sandlin

 

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